Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Prevention as a Community Effort: A Look into How Interpersonal Violence Affects Everyone

Darian Barlow is a sophomore Communication student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and an intern at the Say Something Program within Safe Passage.

Pop star Lady Gaga recently wrote an open letter to her fans on December 7, 2016 regarding her experience with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and much of what she said resonates with the trauma-experienced -- not only by survivors of interpersonal violence, but everyone within a community affected by violence.

PTSD, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), “is a serious potentially debilitating condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist incident, sudden death of a loved one, war, violent personal assault such as rape, or other life-threatening events.”

Many of those afflicted by this disorder experience extreme depression, anxiety and difficulty within their personal relationships. PTSD can cause someone to have difficulty in their ability to perform even the most mundane of tasks. For example as Gaga states in her letter, “It’s harder to do my job. It’s harder to do simple things like take a shower. Everything has become harder.”

This disorder is a very real and present problem within our community, and acts of interpersonal violence can only inflate the numbers of those afflicted. According to the ADAA website, approximately 7.7 million Americans age 18 and older have PTSD, and approximately “67 percent of those exposed to mass violence have been shown to develop PTSD”, significantly higher than other traumatic events.

So how does the violence done onto one person manage to afflict the community at large?

The simple answer is that everyone is interconnected. Depending on the degree of our relationships, the trauma experienced by someone close to us can be just as damaging as trauma done unto us personally. And if an act of interpersonal violence leads to death, it brings an immediate awareness within the community; people often times feel an obligation as a member of the community to reach out to those affected, and a sense of interconnectedness forms within the masses.

Therefore, while the violence is brought upon just one person, it sends tremors within the community once others are made aware. Whether that affects a small amount of people such as friends or family, to a city-wide or nation-wide community, the impact is tangible and present within the lives of these people.

Violence affects everyone, and often times, PTSD is a consequence of this interpersonal violence. This is exactly why we have prevention efforts such as Say Something in order to engage a community into preventing the exact violence which devastatingly affects them at large.

So I’d like to sincerely thank Lady Gaga for bringing light to an issue that stems from the interpersonal violence which we aim to prevent here at Say Something. PTSD is a severe mental affliction and deserves to be treated as such without the negative stigma surrounding mental illness.

As Gaga quotes her doctor within the letter, “It is my opinion that trauma occurs in an environment where your feelings and emotional experience are not valued, heard and understood… This lack of a ‘relational home’ for feelings is the true cause of a traumatic experience. Finding support is key.”

It’s our job as a community to create an environment where interpersonal violence is not only condemned, but where people’s experiences are heard, valued, and responded to effectively and compassionately.

If you or someone you know is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, feel free to follow this link in order to access services which will help:

For local resources, follow this link.

If you want to help take preventative measures against interpersonal violence, check out opportunities at

Monday, November 2, 2015

Safe Passage Domestic Violence Awareness Month Podcast Series

Laura Penney is the Community Engagement Manager at Safe Passage and the project director of the Say Something Prevention Initiative.  

Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) occurs every October and is a time for sharing information and resources, as well as encouraging action in our community to work towards a world where peaceful, loving relationships are the norm. In honor of #DVAM, I took the opportunity to sit down and talk with various colleagues, members of Safe Passage’s staff and board, as well as friends and affiliates of the agency in the hopes of clarifying some of the questions and discussing domestic violence in our community.

In this four-part series of podcasts, we covered various topics related to domestic and sexual violence:
Survivors often describe living through a silent nightmare. The isolating tactics used by controlling partners, threats that talking to someone will result in more violence, and our culture’s feelings about privacy contribute to silence about the experiences in our homes and relationships.  I sat down with Safe Passage's Executive Director, Marianne Winters, and Board President, Diane Curtis, to discuss the basics of domestic violence including: What is domestic violence? How does an abusive relationship differ from an unhealthy relationship? What sort of supports are there for folks who are living with violence or trying to escape? 

DVAM 2015 Podcast Series: #2 Intersectionality and Oppression:
Safe Passage seeks to help individuals and families find safety, resources, and hope. We also have a vested interest in social justice and work each day towards establishing equality in our community. I chatted with Anthia Elliott, Safe Passage’s Director of Programs, to talk about intersectionality and oppression, as well as the ways our agency works each day to help our clients overcome the barriers to seeking safety that are impacted by their various identities.
At Safe Passage, we hold the belief that everyone is negatively impacted by violence regardless of their role as survivor, witness, or perpetrator. People of all genders experience violence across the span of their lives, and our community as a whole must be part of the process of healing. We believe that engaging men and boys in our efforts is a vital component as we work towards a world where loving and safe relationships are the norm in our community. For the third podcast in the series, I had the opportunity to sit down with Steven Botkin to discuss the impact of violence in the experiences of men and boys and the importance of engaging men and boys in our efforts to end domestic and sexual violence.
Our agency provides support, service, healing and hope to individuals and families who have experienced domestic violence and relationship abuse.  We also aspire to a world where loving, safe, peaceful relationships are the norm.  In order to work towards this ultimate goal, we are committed to prevention work in our community. In the final podcast, I was able to reunite with my colleague, and co-author of the Say Something Field Guide, Lynne Marie Wanamaker to discuss one of our all-time favorite topics: prevention of domestic and sexual violence

Friday, August 7, 2015

Leveling up your #superherostatus

Sara is a volunteer at Safe Passage, a lover of nature, psychology, sharp cheddar and the band Queen.

Lately it seems as our media is more super-flooded with superheros than ever. The wave has crashed into the formats of video games, movies, TV shows, and Halloween costumes. It has become trendy and an “In” thing to like superheros as the new rockstars to idolize and to join their fandom. Most of the time, these superhero movies are based on comic books and graphic novels, showing complex characters with fantastic powers we wish we could have. Sometimes the powers wreak havoc, sometimes they help in a way no “normal” person could, yet act as a personification of the altruistic values our communities hold dear.

Superhero stories pivot around a point that there are common human elements, one of which is wanting to help the greater good and to decrease suffering, to enable justice. At the foundation of these common human elements, of trying to help others, have a meaningful life purpose and to fulfill a role, is the desire to connect. A superhero is in all of us. Superheroes are not passive, they are proactive. They stand for justice, demand accountability, and round up the bad guys. All superheros also have adversity or trauma in their past that they use their powers to deal with, and their powers may even be a result of their pain. 

I repeat, there is a superhero in all of us.

How does this relate to “real life”? Well, as The Amazing Spiderman's mantra goes, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” A part of all of us wants to connect and help others, to be fulfilled and better themselves after struggle. Because of all of this, the superhero within us has great inner will that expresses itself through an outside set of powers. What comes with this is a responsibility to help others. In our lives, within our dynamic stories of privilege, disadvantage, and perseverance, we can become overwhelmed by our struggle, and forget we have our own powers. We are stronger than we were yesterday. All the lessons we learned from our struggles have given us power to help empower others. We can also feel helpless against all the suffering in the world, and sometimes pay less attention.

But what about the Super Villains?

It can be easy to be angry, afraid, disturbed, or hurt by them. It is less easy to remember they have their own origin story, and walked their own pathway to violence. It is not as simple as bad guys versus good guys. Just like real life, most people are a mix of the two. What does separate this binary identity crisis, is the will to connect to others, and this is based on a vital human and superhero ingredient:


After facing any kind of transforming pain, whether trauma, tragedy, loss, or major change, what we do from that point forward is determined by hope. If someone suffers great pain and is struggling without anyone willing to listen to them, they may perpetuate the cycle of systematic violence that victimized them. They could, without support and compassion, lose their hope to connect, and become more super villain than superhero. There are always pathways towards both violence and peace, it isn’t random, and there is a choice. The more supported someone feels and the more purpose they feel, the stronger their powers grow and the more they can help others to level up.

So what do we do, to empower ourselves through and beyond our pain, and other superheros? How do we level up our game and life force? You’re already a superhero, so how best to level up your #superherostatus to take care of yourself and help others as well?

There is even evidence in neuroscience to support the power of choice and habit, as well as the presence of social support, self care and their impact on overall well being. The more an action is repeated, the brain creates neural pathways, and as an action becomes habitual, these pathways strengthen. But! You can change your habits, and this skill in itself is a superhero power. The more social support you have, and the more self care you practice, the easier it is to break habits and level up your game. Having superhero powers starts with taking care of yourself and having hope.

So its good to remember:
Self care: shine your shield as often as you please.

Practice active listening in everything you do: activate your super-sonic hearing.

Understand: everyone has their own story, some with rather rocky and dangerous pathways. Some Origin stories are rife with danger and heartache.

Get Involved: no matter your superpower, every little effort helps. In your family, group of friends, school, organization, workplace, every act of kindness can have ripple effects.

Your powers may be invisible to you, but make a profound impact on others. You may be a sensitive, funny, caring, blunt, welcoming, open, empathetic, or a good listener. All of these are super powers and all can be used for leveling up your #superherostatus game.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

From Blurred Lines to Bad Boundaries: A Case Report on Robin Thicke

With the recent news that the courts have just awarded $7.4 million to Gaye’s estate after determining that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams copied this 1977 chart-topper with their song "Blurred Lines", we are reminded reminded of how laden with problematic messaging this catchy tune is.  We wanted to take a few minutes to remind you and to discuss this other serious issue with "Blurred Lines".

Let one of our interns, Arianna, explain:

In the summer of 2014, Forbes considered it a "shocking downfall”, but is the failed relationship and declining career of Robin Thicke really that shocking?

Let’s recap the past two years:

First, in 2013, Robin Thicke wrote a song called “Blurred Lines”. Since it was released there have been many critiques of the song already – as it stirred up the utmost controversy, was banned from several universities, and even earned Thicke the “Sexist Man of 2013” award. At essence, this song is mocking consent politics in the guise of light-hearted and intoxicated fun, while simultaneously being downright creepy; reminding listeners for 4 minutes and 23 seconds that we are all “bad girls”, “good girls”, and that Thicke knows we “want it”.

A short while after the song was released, so was a music video. Let’s just say it didn’t make matters any better. The video sent Thicke to the top of the charts – the “you should be fired from music” chart.

Truly, it was his response to the entire fiasco that really sent Thicke rolling down the hill of Hollywood. By defending himself in the name of “great art” and “stirring conversation”, Thicke took zero accountability for the problematic nature of his attitude towards women, his music, and his choices as a celebrity. After being heavily criticized by feminists and survivors alike, he even had the audacity to name his work as “a feminist movement within itself”. Because, you know, as a white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, heterosexual, class privileged man, he felt entitled enough to educate all the feminists on what feminism actually is.

His clumsy attempt to defend himself on the Today Show was stated as follows:

“When we made the song, we had nothing but the most respect for women and – my wife, I’ve been with the same woman since I was a teenager. So for us, we were just trying to make a funny song and sometimes the lyrics get misconstrued when you’re just trying to put people on the dance floor and have a good time, but we had no idea it would stir this much controversy. We only had the best intentions”.

Sorry, Robin, but being with the same woman since you were a teenager is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. It does not excuse you from being misogynistic. It does not mean that the sexist messages you are sending out about women are nullified. Additionally, intentions do not matter as much as impact, and the impact Blurred Lines made as a song and music video was nothing but offensive.

I think we can all agree that Blurred Lines was a mistake. Let’s travel down the road a few months later and see what happens…

Oops! A divorce between Robin Thicke and Paula Patton! How…unsurprising. I would have never guessed this would happen to a man who is so rich, famous, and inappropriate.

The poor guy was so upset about his divorce that he decided to name his next album “Paula”. The strange thing is that the album, released in June 2014, seems to be less about her and more about him and his determination to get her back, with the album single titled “Get Her Back”, and other songs titled “You’re My Fantasy” and “Whatever I Want”. All in all, the album is yet another example of Robin Thicke’s extreme lack of boundaries and lack of respect for women. If a divorce isn’t enough of a “leave me alone” message for Thicke, then I don’t know what is.

“Paula” sold 530 copies in the first week of being released; a troubling 2% of the total sales of his previous album. Forbes calls it the result of “bad music”, but I would call it the result of “bad boundaries”.

For a while I was feeling torn about the Blurred Lines song. Not because I was secretly moved by the degrading messages, but because the beat and the tune is so catchy. The dealbreaker for me is every time Robin Thicke opens his mouth – the song is then ruined. This is why I am so incredibly pleased that the world is blessed with the presence of Weird Al Yankovic who released an even better version of the song titled “Word Crimes”. Now this is something I can get behind. If you are like me, someone who thinks Blurred Lines is catchy, but cannot stand the lyrics or messaging, I highly recommend you check this song out!

Arianna is a queer femme from the lakes and forests of Massachusetts, a student of plants, stars, and feminisms, and a fierce lover of The Beach Boys.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Responses to Toxic Masculinity

Recently, I had the pleasure of co-facilitating a large training for members of the community around healthy masculinity, and healthy men and boys.   It was an intense two days, full of rich discussion, lots of emotions, and a constant drive to communicate with one another across various identities.

What we know is that the way society and culture constructs masculinity and what we are all told it means to "be a man" isn't always healthy.  It can be damaging, hurtful, oppressive, and violent.  For our entire community.  During the training, we watched the following two videos right after one another, and it was an immensely powerful experience.  I encourage you all to watch these short youtube clips and imagine what our world would be like if people of all or no genders were able to express their emotions, seek help, and truly connect with one another in authentic ways.

The following videos contain some NSFW language and potentially triggering content.

For more information about our local Western MA efforts to provide support and encouragement for healthy masculinities for men and boys, feel free to check out the Network for Healthy Men and Boys, a collaboration of agencies across Western MA working together to create a different kind of culture.

Laura Penney is the Community Engagement Coordinator at Safe Passage and the project director of the Say Something Prevention Initiative.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cindy Beal & Lynne Marie Wanamaker: It’s never too late to report sexual assault

This essay originally appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on November 28th, 2014.

We were appalled to see a misinformed opinion piece by Christine Flowers in the Nov. 21 Gazette. Christine Flowers’ guest essay — “Cosby accusers waited too long” — stands as a worst-case example of what not to say when someone takes the courageous step of disclosing a violation.

Experts in sexual violence, trauma and recovery know that it is never too late to tell. Experts also know that how we respond to survivors can have a profound influence on their resilience and recovery. In the words of trauma expert Judith Herman, our compassionate witness can fulfill “the hope that restorative love may still be found in the world.” These are some things survivors of sexual and domestic violence need — and deserve — to hear: It was not your fault. If someone made the reprehensible choice to hurt you, that was their fault. No matter how many times you think about what happened or how, it was not your fault.

You can and should tell anyone you want. No matter if it is an hour after you were hurt or a hundred years.

Truth is truth, and you have the right to speak yours. It might start out as a wail, but after that the words will come.

There are many of us who will listen to you, who will hear you, who are sorry that it happened to you. Some of us because it happened to us, too. Some of us because we are people with big hearts and open eyes who see and feel truths that are so painful about our culture that lets this happen over and over again.

Know this: We are in your houses of worship and nursery schools and shopping centers. We are at Safe Passage: On the hotline, in supportive services, and running and cheering at the Hot Chocolate Run to promote freedom from violence in Hampshire County. And we are in your adult ed classes, your kid’s basketball camp, the auto repair shop. You are surrounded by people who will listen and believe you.

We understand that there are hundreds of reasons someone might not tell the story of a sexual assault right away. Some of them are rooted in the neurobiology of trauma: The things that happen in our brains and bodies when we are overwhelmed by violations.

Some of us didn’t tell because we were afraid of hurting the people we loved. Or we were afraid that the people who loved us — our dads, our mothers — might kill the people who had hurt us. Some of us didn’t tell because we were afraid we would be killed.

Some of us did tell, but we were not believed. Or we were blamed. Or we were asked many questions to which we did not have answers. And it was a long time before we tried telling again.

Some of us didn’t tell because we needed help to find the words. Sometimes that help came from people who loved and believed us. Sometimes it came from skilled professionals who understand how trauma works and how humans heal.

Some of us didn’t tell because we could not bear to bring the scrutiny of a victim-blaming culture into our most vulnerable moment.

Whenever we talk about violence, survivors are listening. The Centers for Disease Control tell us that one in two U.S. women has experienced a sexual assault that was not a rape, and one in five has experienced rape.

Studies show that 27 percent of women and 16 percent of men have experienced childhood sexual abuse.

If we say publicly that one survivor waited “too long” to tell, we tell those who have not yet disclosed that we will not stand with them when they are ready. In so doing, we become an obstacle to healing. 

We collude with the perpetrators and become part of the culture of violence.

We disavow this. We stand with and for survivors. It is never too late to tell.

Cindy Beal runs Justice and Peace Consulting in Easthampton and Lynne Marie Wanamaker is a violence prevention educator in Easthampton. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Safe Passage Says Something at Project Unbreakable Event @ Umass Amherst

On Monday, November 3rd, Project Unbreakable presented at UMASS Amherst and Laura Penney, our Community Engagement Coordinator, had the honor of being asked to speak at the event. If you have not heard of Project Unbreakable before, here is a little information:

The mission of Project Unbreakable is to increase awareness of the issues surrounding sexual assault, child abuse, and domestic violence, and encourage the act of healing through art.
Created in October of 2011 by then 19 year old photographer Grace Brown, Project Unbreakable originally featured photos of sexual assault survivors holding posters with quotes from their attackers. In September, Project Unbreakable expanded to include photos from survivors of child abuse and domestic violence. Originally, Project Unbreakable was supposed to stay small – the main intention was to simple create awareness – but soon it was discovered that it provides a way of healing for violence survivors. Since the conception, Project Unbreakable has featured over four thousand photographs, both photos taken by Grace and submissions from all over the world.

We encourage you to visit their website, but also want to give a strong warning because while the images are incredible powerful, they can also be also very difficult to see. Please reach out to a counselor or hotline if you need to talk at any point.

Below is the transcript of the speech given at the event:

“Thank you so much for having me here tonight. I have been a huge fan of the work the Project Unbreakable has been doing for some time now, and feel truly honored to be at this event. I’m also very excited to have been given the opportunity to speak a bit about the work that my agency, Safe Passage, is also doing to give folks in the community a voice to speak out to prevent sexual and domestic violence. As I prepared to speak this evening, I spent some time looking at the countless photos on the Project Unbreakable website. Photos of amazing individuals who were sharing their stories and proving their strength to the world. These powerful images drew me in and I found myself connecting to each person who help up a sign and bravely told the world about their experience.

Reading over the words that had been spoken to each of the survivors was very difficult. It is always hard to see the ways that humans harm one another. Additionally, many of us don’t hear these stories regularly, because when it comes to sexual and domestic violence specifically, silence around experience is often the result. Speaking out, telling our stories as survivors is such a profound process, and can be a huge contribution to our own healing journeys. It also connects us with other survivors, letting us know we are not alone.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a feminist. And for as long as I can remember, I have been quite outspoken about that fact. Maybe growing up with a strong mother had something to do with it. Or maybe it has just been navigating the world we live in as a self-identified woman. Or maybe it is because of my own identity as a survivor of domestic and sexual violence. Or all of the above. And then some. Who knows, really? Whatever the reasons, I have consistently found myself entrenched in the issues of women’s rights, sexual assault, and domestic violence from an early age.

And that’s how I found myself at Safe Passage. For those of you who may not know, Safe Passage is Hampshire County’s domestic violence agency. We are based in downtown Northampton. We have counseling and advocacy services for adults and children, support groups, a 24-hour hotline, legal advocacy, and an emergency shelter among many other services. We are a small agency, but we serve many.

The work that my coworkers do every day saves lives. They help people plan out how to keep themselves and their children safe when they are facing danger in their home. Homes. Which should be the safest place for each of us. I have seen people transform when they find safety and are allowed the space to heal; I witness compassion and fortitude and resourcefulness, but most of all strength in the folks that come through our doors every day. This work is so important, so necessary. But I would like to imagine a world where it’s not necessary. Where events like this aren’t commemorating lives lost, or raising awareness around an issue that effects so many and is still a tremendous social issue, but are showings of solidarity and support to maintain communities that are free of violence.

At Safe Passage, I am the Community Engagement Coordinator. The work that I do on a daily basis is educating folks on the information and skills they need to become active agents of change. To help prevent violence in our communities. Our prevention program, Say Something, operates on one simple belief: that no matter who we are, what roles we play, who we come in contact with, each of us has the opportunity and ability to Say Something in our everyday lives that will help prevent interpersonal violence.

We know that one of the main tactics that abusers use to maintain their control is isolation; from friends, family, any sort of support network. They use isolation because it is difficult to speak out, seek help, and/or change your situation if you do not have the social supports. This work, the work to end domestic and sexual violence, is also often isolating. We often feel alone in our thoughts, feelings, experiences, and desires for a different kind of world. I don’t know about you folks, but I have, on more than one occasion been the only one in a group speaking up about the inappropriate joke that has been told, or the uncomfortable statement just said, but of course was not meant, because “I was only kidding”.

The importance of community is paramount in this work. And that is what we try to provide with Say Something. The proof that you are not alone in this world, feeling the way you do. That there are people all over who have had their own experiences and are committed to ending sexual and domestic violence. And while I scrolled through the Project Unbreakable Tumblr, that’s exactly the same feeling I had. Seeing the strength and solidarity that comes with speaking out and Saying Something. It’s truly powerful.

The statements that really jumped out at me on the website weren’t the things that were said during an assault, but the supportive words from friends, family, new partners, and community members that were so important to hear for many folks. This just further instills in me the importance of educating our communities to Say Something. Not only to interrupt violence when we see it, but to know what to say when responding to someone who discloses.

When we first developed the Say Something program at our agency, I put up this big board in the front of the office that said “Say Something…” and invited everyone who came to our office—staff, volunteers, clients, community members – to finish the sentiment. The visual of this was truly breathtaking. And if you want to see what the final product looks like, you can always visit our facebook or website. But here are some of the examples of the contributions:
Say Something:
• You may have been afraid to say this morning
• Loving
• True
• Because others may not be able to
• And you could change a life
• Hopeful
• Comforting
• And inspire others to say something too
• Encouraging
• About your experience
• Positive
• Because you have the power
• Brave
• Supportive
• About how violence has effected your life
• Amazing
• And then do something

As we all move through our daily lives, we have countless opportunities to Say Something. If we, as a community can shift our collective thinking to not tolerate language or behaviors that support domestic and sexual violence, we can start to establish a new culture where respect, tolerance, safety and love are the universal experiences of all. That’s the vision and hope that I hold onto. And that’s the vision and hope that I work every day towards. So, I am here tonight to honor the survivors who have spoken out, and invite you all to Say Something every chance you get. Become active agents for change in your day to day lives and become part of a larger community that will not stand for violence. Thank you all for being here and thank you for holding this cause in your hearts."

Laura Penney is the Community Engagement Coordinator at Safe Passage and the project director of the Say Something Prevention Initiative.